Humour Files: CPP Interview

                                    C++ Interview

  On the 1st of January, 1998, Bjarne Stroustrup gave an interview
  to the IEEE's 'Computer' magazine.
  Naturally, the editors thought he would be giving a retrospective
  view of seven years of object-oriented design, using the language
  he created.
  By the end of the interview, the interviewer got more than he had
  bargained for and, subsequently, the editor decided to suppress
  its contents, 'for the good of the industry' but, as with many of
  these things, there was a leak.
  Here is a complete transcript of what was was said, unedited, and
  unrehearsed, so it isn't as neat as planned interviews.
  You will find it interesting...
  Interviewer:   Well, it's been a few years since you changed the
                 world of software design.  How does it feel,
                 looking back?
  Stroustrup:    Actually, I was thinking about those days, just
                 before you arrived.  Do you remember?  Everyone
                 was writing 'C' and, the trouble was, they were
                 pretty damn good at it.  Universities got pretty
                 good at teaching it, too.  They were turning out
                 competent - I stress the word 'competent' -
                 graduates at a phenomenal rate.  That's what
                 caused the problem.
  Interviewer:   Problem?
  Stroustrup:    Yes, problem.  Remember when everyone wrote
  Interviewer:   Of course, I did, too.
  Stroustrup:    Well, in the beginning, these guys were like
                 demi-gods.  Their salaries were high, and they
                 were treated like royalty.
  Interviewer:   Those were the days, eh?
  Stroustrup:    Right.  So what happened?  IBM got sick of it,
                 and invested millions in training programmers,
                 till they were a dime a dozen.
  Interviewer:   That's why I got out.  Salaries dropped within a
                 year, to the point where being a journalist
                 actually paid better.
  Stroustrup:    Exactly.  Well, the same happened with 'C'
  Interviewer:   I see, but what's the point?
  Stroustrup:    Well, one day, when I was sitting in my office, I
                 thought of this little scheme, which would
                 redress the balance a little.  I thought 'I
                 wonder what would happen, if there were a
                 language so complicated, so difficult to learn,
                 that nobody would ever be able to swamp the
                 market with programmers?
                 Actually, I got some of the ideas from X10, you
                 know, X windows.  That was such a bitch of a
                 graphics system, that it only just ran on those
                 Sun 3/60 things.  They had all the ingredients
                 for what I wanted.  A really ridiculously complex
                 syntax, obscure functions, and pseudo-OO
                 structure.  Even now, nobody writes raw X-windows
                 code.  Motif is the only way to go if you want to
                 retain your sanity.
  Interviewer:   You're kidding...?
  Stroustrup:    Not a bit of it.  In fact, there was another
                 problem.  Unix was written in 'C', which meant
                 that any 'C' programmer could very easily become
                 a systems programmer.  Remember what a mainframe
                 systems programmer used to earn?
  Interviewer:   You bet I do, that's what I used to do.
  Stroustrup:    OK, so this new language had to divorce itself
                 from Unix, by hiding all the system calls that
                 bound the two together so nicely.  This would
                 enable guys who only knew about DOS to earn a
                 decent living too.
  Interviewer:   I don't believe you said that...
  Stroustrup:    Well, it's been long enough, now, and I believe
                 most people have figured out for themselves that
                 C++ is a waste of time but, I must say, it's
                 taken them a lot longer than I thought it would.
  Interviewer:   So how exactly did you do it?
  Stroustrup:    It was only supposed to be a joke, I never
                 thought people would take the book seriously.
                 Anyone with half a brain can see that
                 object-oriented programming is counter-intuitive,
                 illogical and inefficient.
  Interviewer:   What?
  Stroustrup:    And as for 're-useable code' --- when did you
                 ever hear of a company re-using its code?
  Interviewer:   Well, never, actually, but...
  Stroustrup:    There you are then.  Mind you, a few tried, in the
                 early days.  There was this Oregon company ---
                 Mentor Graphics, I think they were called --- really
                 caught a cold trying to rewrite everything in C++
                 in about '90 or '91.  I felt sorry for them
                 really, but I thought people would learn from
                 their mistakes.
  Interviewer:   Obviously, they didn't?
  Stroustrup:    Not in the slightest.  Trouble is, most companies
                 hush-up all their major blunders, and explaining
                 a $30 million loss to the shareholders would have
                 been difficult.  Give them their due, though,
                 they made it work in the end.
  Interviewer:   They did?  Well, there you are then, it proves
                 O-O works.
  Stroustrup:    Well, almost.  The executable was so huge, it
                 took five minutes to load, on an HP workstation,
                 with 128MB of RAM.  Then it ran like molasses.
                 Actually, I thought this would be a major
                 stumbling-block, and I'd get found out within a
                 week, but nobody cared.  Sun and HP were only too
                 glad to sell enormously powerful boxes, with huge
                 resources just to run trivial programs.  You
                 know, when we had our first C++ compiler, at
                 AT&T, I compiled 'Hello World', and couldn't
                 believe the size of the executable. 2.1MB
  Interviewer:   What?  Well, compilers have come a long way,
                 since then.
  Stroustrup:    They have?  Try it on the latest version of g++ -
                 you won't get much change out of half a megabyte.
                 Also, there are several quite recent examples for
                 you, from all over the world.  British Telecom
                 had a major disaster on their hands but, luckily,
                 managed to scrap the whole thing and start again.
                 They were luckier than Australian Telecom.  Now I
                 hear that Siemens is building a dinosaur, and
                 getting more and more worried as the size of the
                 hardware gets bigger, to accommodate the
                 executables.  Isn't multiple inheritance a joy?
  Interviewer:   Yes, but C++ is basically a sound language.
  Stroustrup:    You really believe that, don't you?  Have you
                 ever sat down and worked on a C++ project?
                 Here's what happens:    First, I've put in enough
                 pitfalls to make sure that only the most trivial
                 projects will work first time.
                 Take operator overloading.  At the end of the
                 project, almost every module has it, usually,
                 because guys feel they really should do it, as it
                 was in their training course.  The same operator
                 then means something totally different in every
                 module.  Try pulling that lot together, when you
                 have a hundred or so modules.
                 And as for data hiding, God, I sometimes can't
                 help laughing when I hear about the problems
                 companies have making their modules talk to each
                 other.  I think the word 'synergistic' was
                 specially invented to twist the knife in a
                 project manager's ribs.
  Interviewer:   I have to say, I'm beginning to be quite appalled
                 at all this.  You say you did it to raise
                 programmers' salaries?  That's obscene.
  Stroustrup:    Not really.  Everyone has a choice.  I didn't
                 expect the thing to get so much out of hand.
                 Anyway, I basically succeeded.  C++ is dying off
                 now, but programmers still get high salaries -
                 especially those poor devils who have to maintain
                 all this crap.  You do realise, it's impossible
                 to maintain a large C++ software module if you
                 didn't actually write it?
  Interviewer:   How come?
  Stroustrup:    You are out of touch, aren't you?  Remember the
  Interviewer:   Yes, of course.
  Stroustrup:    Remember how long it took to grope through the
                 header files only to find that 'RoofRaised' was a
                 double precision number?  Well, imagine how long
                 it takes to find all the implicit typedefs in all
                 the Classes in a major project.
  Interviewer:   So how do you reckon you've succeeded?
  Stroustrup:    The universities haven't been teaching 'C' for
                 such a long time, there's now a shortage of
                 decent 'C' programmers.  Especially those who
                 know anything about Unix systems programming.
                 How many guys would know what to do with
                 'malloc', when they've used 'new' all these years
                 - and never bothered to check the return code.
                 In fact, most C++ programmers throw away their
                 return codes.  Whatever happened to good ol'
                 '-1'?  At least you knew you had an error,
                 without bogging the thing down in all that
                 'throw' 'catch' 'try' stuff.
  Interviewer:   But, surely, inheritance does save a lot of time?
  Stroustrup:    Does it?  Have you ever noticed the difference
                 between a 'C' project plan, and a C++ project
                 plan?  The planning stage for a C++ project is
                 three times as long.  Precisely to make sure that
                 everything which should be inherited is, and what
                 shouldn't isn't.  Then, they still get it wrong.
                 Whoever heard of memory leaks in a 'C' program?
                 Now finding them is a major industry.  Most
                 companies give up, and send the product out,
                 knowing it leaks like a sieve, simply to avoid
                 the expense of tracking them all down.
  Interviewer:   There are tools....
  Stroustrup:    Most of which were written in C++.
  Interviewer:   If we publish this, you'll probably get lynched,
                 you do realise that?
  Stroustrup:    I doubt it.  As I said, C++ is way past its peak
                 now, and no company in its right mind would start
                 a C++ project without a pilot trial.  That should
                 convince them that it's the road to disaster.  If
                 not, they deserve all they get.  You know, I
                 tried to convince Dennis Ritchie to rewrite Unix
                 in C++.
  Interviewer:   Oh my God.  What did he say?
  Stroustrup:    Well, luckily, he has a good sense of humor.  I
                 think both he and Brian figured out what I was
                 doing, in the early days, but never let on.  He
                 said he'd help me write a C++ version of DOS, if
                 I was interested.
  Interviewer:   Were you?
  Stroustrup:    Actually, I did write DOS in C++, I'll give you a
                 demo when we're through.  I have it running on a
                 Sparc 20 in the computer room.  Goes like a
                 rocket on 4 CPU's, and only takes up 70 megs of
  Interviewer:   What's it like on a PC?
  Stroustrup:    Now you're kidding.  Haven't you ever seen
                 Windows '95?  I think of that as my biggest
                 success.  Nearly blew the game before I was
                 ready, though.
  Interviewer:   You know, that idea of a Unix++ has really got me
                 thinking.  Somewhere out there, there's a guy
                 going to try it.
  Stroustrup:    Not after they read this interview.
  Interviewer:   I'm sorry, but I don't see us being able to
                 publish any of this.
  Stroustrup:    But it's the story of the century.  I only want
                 to be remembered by my fellow programmers, for
                 what I've done for them.  You know how much a C++
                 guy can get these days?
  Interviewer:   Last I heard, a really top guy is worth $70 - $80
                 an hour.
  Stroustrup:    See?  And I bet he earns it.  Keeping track of
                 all the gotchas I put into C++ is no easy job.
                 And, as I said before, every C++ programmer feels
                 bound by some mystic promise to use every damn
                 element of the language on every project.
                 Actually, that really annoys me sometimes, even
                 though it serves my original purpose.  I almost
                 like the language after all this time.
  Interviewer:   You mean you didn't before?
  Stroustrup:    Hated it.  It even looks clumsy, don't you agree?
                 But when the book royalties started to come in...
                 well, you get the picture.
  Interviewer:   Just a minute.  What about references?  You must
                 admit, you improved on 'C' pointers.
  Stroustrup:    Hmm.  I've always wondered about that.
                 Originally, I thought I had.  Then, one day I was
                 discussing this with a guy who'd written C++ from
                 the beginning.  He said he could never remember
                 whether his variables were referenced or
                 dereferenced, so he always used pointers.  He
                 said the little asterisk always reminded him.
  Interviewer:   Well, at this point, I usually say 'thank you
                 very much' but it hardly seems adequate.
  Stroustrup:    Promise me you'll publish this.  My conscience is
                 getting the better of me these days.
  Interviewer:   I'll let you know, but I think I know what my
                 editor will say.
  Stroustrup:    Who'd believe it anyway?  Although, can you send
                 me a copy of that tape?
  Interviewer:   I can do that.

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